columnU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden’s warm words and empty gestures

Despite the president’s genuine affection for Israel, his itinerary sent out baleful signals.

The American and Israeli flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as a welcome to U.S. President Joe Biden on July 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The American and Israeli flags are screened on the walls of Jerusalem's Old City as a welcome to U.S. President Joe Biden on July 13, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to:

When dealing with politicians, it’s important always to pay less attention to what they say than what they actually do—and also to what they choose not to say, which may provide a clue to their actions.

When U.S. President Joe Biden arrived this week in Israel, he said he was proud that America’s relationship with Israel was “deeper and stronger, in my view, than it’s ever been” and told an Israeli interviewer that returning to Israel was “like going home.”

Biden’s feelings are doubtless genuine enough. However, when Israel’s interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, called the president “a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known,” such fawning struck a false note given the unprecedented hostility towards Israel of parts of the Democratic Party and Biden’s own administration.

The Democrats ferociously opposed the decision by former President Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that signaled America’s acceptance of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.

Last year, the Biden administration proposed to reopen America’s Jerusalem consulate as a de facto mission to the Palestinians, thus indicating an implicit recognition of two states within the city. It retreated in the face of ferocious Israeli opposition, although it upgraded the role of a viciously anti-Israel official to the role of Special Envoy to the Palestinians with a direct link to the U.S. State Department.

In Jerusalem, Biden’s itinerary was shaped to deliver a set of signals about the way his administration views Israel. And those signals were not good.

For example, he went to Yad Vashem but he didn’t visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City. Trump had visited the wall, although no other U.S. president has done so when in office.

There’s no doubt that Biden was genuinely emotional at Yad Vashem where he reportedly had tears in his eyes. Nevertheless, pieties towards dead Jews often conceal indifference or hostility towards live ones.

So it is with the State Department. According to its mindset, paying due respect to the Jewish victims of Nazism is fine. Acknowledging the truth about Israel’s claim to the Jews’ ancestral homeland, which involves denying the big lie told by the Palestinians who falsely claim ancient ancestry in the same land, is not.

The Western Wall—the retaining wall of the Second Temple—isn’t just a sacred spot for religious Jews. It provides enduring evidence of the unbroken link between the biblical origins of the Jews’ claim to Jerusalem and the present day. Its existence thus makes a mockery of the claim—an article of faith in Washington, D.C., and other Western capitals—that this part of Jerusalem is under illegitimate Israeli “occupation.”

The Western Wall is a symbol of the rightful claim to this land, in law and in history, of the Jews alone. That was what Trump was acknowledging when he visited it and reverently touched its stones. And that’s why Biden chose not to go there.

Even more disturbing is Biden’s visit to eastern Jerusalem to visit the Augusta Victoria Arab hospital. This is the first time that a U.S. president has visited Jerusalem’s disputed territory. Moreover, he chose not to be accompanied there by any Israeli official.

This is not only a calculated insult to Israel but a deliberate signal that, to the United States, Jerusalem is an eternally divided city.

On this week’s JNS “Top Story” podcast, I interviewed America’s former ambassador to Israel in the Trump administration, David Friedman. He told me that what disturbed him most about Biden’s visit were these symbolic omissions and inclusions on his itinerary. And he observed that the Biden administration was stupendously hostile, stuffed with officials who hate Israel.

As he said, these officials were appalled by the U.S. embassy move and path-breaking Abraham Accords, which are transforming the region by developing close ties between Israel and the Arab world, because such people cannot admit that their entire set of assumptions about the Middle East had always been wrong. So they try to force Israel and the Palestinian Arabs into the same failed process over and over again.

Before Biden’s visit, the United States told Israel once again that it must make concessions to prop up the Palestinian Authority head, Mahmoud Abbas. Once again, Israel complied.

It agreed to legalize the status of 5,500 undocumented Palestinians and foreigners living in the West Bank and Gaza; it approved six Palestinian housing projects in the area of the “West Bank” where Israel maintains civilian control; and Lapid promised Biden that there would be “no surprise” regarding building in Israeli settlements.

Yet the United States required no equivalent concessions from the P.A. Instead, it is continuing to fund it, despite its refusal to stop incitement to murder Israelis and despite its continuing to pay blood money to the families of terrorists who have murdered Jews.

The Biden administration refuses to admit the evidence of its own eyes—that making concessions to terrorist regimes merely incentivizes rather than dampens down their aggression. Thus even now, it remains committed to making a nuclear deal with Iran.

Tehran has revealed it is (illegally) producing highly enriched uranium using advanced centrifuges at a nuclear site buried deep within a mountain. Last month, the U.N.’s top nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned that by the middle of this month, it would be unable to fully verify Iran’s nuclear activities.

Yet America’s fixation with doing a deal remains unshakeable. The White House is insisting that even Iran’s decision to send drones to Russia won’t affect the negotiations. When Lapid insisted that diplomacy wouldn’t stop Iran’s nuclear program, Biden publicly disagreed and insisted that “diplomacy is the best way.”

Nevertheless, there’s been a slight shift in language. Biden said he was prepared to use military force “as a last resort” to stop Iran’s growing nuclear program.

This week, Biden and Lapid signed the Jerusalem Declaration formalizing the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership. This says that America and Israel will “use all elements of national power,” which would include military measures, to ensure that Iran doesn’t obtain a nuclear weapon.

But what does this mean? Given the Biden administration’s previous form, that “last resort” would probably not be until an Iranian nuclear missile was on the point of being fired. For the Israelis, the “last resort” would undoubtedly arrive far sooner. If Israel were to attack Iran, would the United States help—or try to stop it?

And Biden’s declaration that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon rings hollow considering that the Obama administration made the same pledge even as it formulated the 2015 deal that guaranteed Iranian nuclear break-out capacity with only a few years’ delay.

So a measure of skepticism about “military force” is in order, particularly in view of what is assumed to be the real reason for Biden’s visit—to plead with the Saudis to pump more oil to bring down the price and thus relieve the fuel crisis precipitated by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

And to persuade the Saudis to do this, Biden has to convince them that America seriously intends to stop Iran in its tracks. Hence the “military force reference.”

But as Lapid told Biden, Iran will only be deterred by a credible threat of military action. A really credible signal would be for the United States publicly to announce its intention to give Israel the weaponry with which it could destroy Iran’s nuclear sites.

Absent a signal of that kind, there is no reason why the Saudis or anyone else should change their view that the United States under Biden is a busted flush—prepared to offer no more than the warm words and empty gestures that have been on such conspicuous display this week.

Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to to access her work.

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